INDIAN WELLS, California — Two days before the Iowa caucus, Charles Koch defended the work of the political network affiliated with the billionaire brothers and laid out his vision for the country before 500 attendees at the largest ever gathering hosted by the network.
“I’m kind of incognito,” Koch joked, encouraging the attendees to be open about their political philosophies. “But I’ve been identified lately, and it's not so bad. I’m still here and stronger than ever….This isn’t some secret cabal. We have ideas that will make American better, and we need to share them and we need to stand up and be open that this is what we believe because we’re committed — whatever the cost — to make America better. And believe me, I haven’t suffered any costs. I get a lot of attacks, but I get a lot of great letters on how what we’re doing has changed people’s lives."
Koch's comments at a resort in the California desert were part of his opening remarks for the annual winter meeting of the network, which intends to spend $889 million on conservative causes and candidates in line with the brothers' political philosophy in the two-year 2016 election cycle. Freedom Partners, the umbrella group hosting the event — and other allied organizations — have already spent just under $400 million in 2015, a top official revealed Saturday.
In his remarks, Koch also laid out four priorities for the network that he believes will change the country.
"The first one is to change, reverse the policies that are moving us toward…a society that is destroying opportunities for the disadvantage and creating welfare for the wealthy,” he said.
"The second one is the irresponsible, destructive spending by both political parties that is making people’s lives worse. And the third one is to get government at all levels — that is local, state and federal — to focus on the government’s primary responsibility to keep America safe instead of being distracted with all sorts of other objectives…And last, but not least — protecting free speech, which is the foundation of a free society.”
BuzzFeed News was one of six news organizations to accept an invitation to cover the event after agreeing to a set of ground rules proposed by the Kochs' political network, including not identifying the donors attending unless they agreed to an interview. With Democrats increasingly attacking the brothers for their political giving, the network has made an effort to be more transparent in recent months, opening up parts of their meetings — known as "seminars" — to a few reporters for the first time last year.
On Saturday, Koch stressed the network’s new efforts toward transparency and encouraged donors to talk to media.
The gathering comes as the brothers have faced renewed scrutiny following the release of a new book by New Yorker writer Jane Mayer. In her book, Mayer reports that Fred Koch, the father of Charles and David Koch, helped construct an oil refinery in Nazi Germany.
About one-third of the prospective donors at this weekend’s event were first time attendees, and the theme for this weekend's gathering is “A Vision to Unleash America’s Potential” with discussions on “restoring fiscal responsibility,” “corporate welfare” and criminal justice reform. Donors have to put in $100,000 to become part of the network, which includes several, well-funded groups like Americans for Prosperity, LIBRE Initiative, and Generation Opportunity.
Although the network has invited several presidential contenders to speak at forums before donors at past seminars, Freedom Partners has not endorsed anyone, with different donors within the network backing different candidates. No presidential candidate is expected to attend the gathering this weekend, given it’s just before the Iowa caucus.